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pic·​a·​yune ˌpi-kē-ˈyün How to pronounce picayune (audio)
: a Spanish half real piece formerly current in the South
: something trivial


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: of little value : paltry
picayunish adjective

Did you know?

In the 19th century, in Louisiana and other southern states, a picayune was a small coin (specifically, a Spanish half real) with a low monetary value. The coin's name derives from picaioun, a word that means "small coin" in Occitan (a language spoken in Southern France). It ultimately derives from the Occitan word pica, which means "to jingle" and which was created to mimic the sound of coins jingling. The real as a monetary unit fell out of use, however, and picayune joined two bits in the category of small amounts of money whose name eventually came to be used instead for things that are paltry and small.

Examples of picayune in a Sentence

Noun our lives don't amount to a picayune in the great scheme of things Adjective They argued over the most picayune details. the picayune ponderings of a commentator who steadfastly believes other cultures are inferior to our own
Recent Examples on the Web
Light-bodied and easy to drink, it’s got all the hallmarks of a classic grain whisky, but with a flavor profile that’s big and layered enough to satisfy the most picayune of single-malt snobs. Tony Sachs, Forbes, 30 Nov. 2023 The show has always dwelled in the picayune at times, but these and so many other moments feel like attempts to find the fight, to gin something up. Daniel D'addario, Variety, 13 July 2023
At this point you may be exhausted by the exploration of picayune facts. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 28 July 2012 But only a fool would harp on picayune flaws when this rich material is being served with such musical polish and sensitivity. Charles Isherwood, WSJ, 18 Aug. 2022 Challenging ballot designations has become something of a sport in California politics — squabbles over the occasionally picayune rules return each cycle like the swallows to Capistrano. Los Angeles Times, 19 Mar. 2022 What would normally be regarded as an investigation that has reached the level of pursuing such picayune matters that it should be concluded, may to him or her be an investigation that ought to go on for another year. Dan McLaughlin, National Review, 13 Mar. 2022 There are at least two explanations: One is that the violations are so picayune as to expose a petty scheme to dump the executive. Washington Post, 19 Feb. 2022 This was the Britain—still very imperial yet so very picayune—to which Mr. Sen, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in economics, had come to study. Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ, 21 Jan. 2022 Vance’s investigation, which appears to be focussed largely on business practices that Trump engaged in before taking office, may seem picayune in comparison with the outrageous offenses to democratic norms that Trump committed as President. Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, 12 Mar. 2021 But after months of family quarantine, combined with the confusion and exasperation of school-Zoom days, more of our wind-down reading sessions have involved the sureness of facts — picayune details about dogs and skyscrapers and coral reefs. Mark Athitakis, Washington Post, 24 Nov. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'picayune.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Occitan picaioun, a small coin, from picaio money, from pica to jingle, of imitative origin

First Known Use


1804, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1836, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of picayune was in 1804


Dictionary Entries Near picayune

Cite this Entry

“Picayune.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/picayune. Accessed 20 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


: of little value : paltry
also : petty sense 3

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